Muhammad Meets His Maker

Executing felons is both just and moral.

The remembrance of Veteran's Day and mourning for the victims of Muslim treason at Ft. Hood diluted its impact, but another terrorist met his Maker last week:

John Allen Muhammad, the mastermind of the sniper attacks that terrorised the US capital region for three weeks in 2002, was executed earlier this morning.

During the anxious days of the "Beltway Sniper", I frequently visited the region on business.  Whenever I'd fly in, my wife would express concern that I might be the next unsuspecting victim - never mind the millions of non-victims in the area and the far higher probability of being squashed like a bug in DC's notorious traffic.  Everyone was fearful because there was no rhyme nor reason to the killings - the victims and the locations seem to have been entirely random.

Muhammad was a terrorist by any definition: he attacked civilian targets, terrorized millions, and spread panic far and wide.  Rumors flew: a white van was spotted driving away from a murder site!  Don't go out in the open if there's a white van around!

How many tens of thousands of white vans must there be?  How many white van drivers were hassled without result?  Nobody noticed the ordinary-looking sedan the killers actually used.

But then, nobody was looking for a pair of black male converts to Islam.  At the time, the FBI's vaunted profiles said the suspect had to be a white man.  Why?  Because all serial killers are white!  Oops.

Oddly enough, Muhammad's appointment with the Grim Reaper was not marked by the customary candlelight vigils and anti-death-penalty protests; even liberals get vengeful when they've been scared out of their wits.  Which makes it a good time to talk about the death penalty and why we need far, far more of it.

The Deterrent Argument

Most pro-death-penalty debaters like to say that executing criminals deters other would-be criminals from committing crimes.  It makes a certain logical sense: if doing something may lead to your death, most people won't do it.

Indeed, the statistics support this position.

The trouble is, for deterrents to work, justice must be seen to be done.  John Muhammad terrorized millions and was arrested soon after his crimes, yet he lived for seven more years.  Justice delayed is justice denied; there's no reason why any criminal case should take more than a few months, maybe a year.  President McKinley's assassin was executed within two months, but that was back in 1901, a time when we still believed in individual responsibility and in imposing consequences for crimes.

Under the Constitution, accused criminals have rights and are presumed innocent until proven guilty.  That's as it should be; but we've gone way too far in allowing endless delays and countless appeals.  Prompt justice, one appeal; then, if you can't present some astonishing malfeasance or shocking new evidence, that should be it.

The vast majority of murderers are neither arrested nor convicted; the vast majority of those convicted are ultimately released, free to kill again.  What sort of deterrent is the death penalty if you're more likely to win the Megabucks than wind up frying in the Chair?

We know that private penalties work - when Bernhard Goetz shot back at the gang who tried to mug him on the subway and bagged four of the thugs, subway muggings dropped and stayed down for months.  Only our government is able to render capital punishment relatively ineffective.

The Sword of Vengeance

Another reason sometimes given for the death penalty is that it allows society to demonstrate its harshest disapproval for the most depraved crimes.  In this argument, executing the murderer makes society feel better and provides a sense of closure for the victims' relatives.

Alas, this argument carries in itself its own weakness: is it truly ethical to terminate somebody's life in order to make you feel better?  Put that way, the death penalty sounds immoral, which of course is what its opponents want you to think.

What liberals hate to admit is that vengeance is not simply about your feelings.  One of the ways in which human beings are distinct from animals is that we have a concept of "justice."

Lions don't consider whether it is "just" to kill the weakest gazelle; they just do it and feast.  The healthy gazelles don't fret about whether it's fair to leave their handicapped relatives behind as lion chow; they just want to keep their own skins safe.  Throughout most of the animal kingdom, the only "altruistic" actions are those of mothers and occasional fathers defending their young, which can easily be explained in genetic and evolutionary terms.

As humans, though, we do have an abstract concept of Lady Justice.  Something is not right simply because you can get away with it; you can be an evil, wrong person even if you never get caught and never pay any price for your depravity.

In evolutionary terms, this makes no sense, but this view of justice is common to all viable human societies throughout all of history.  Even young children haven an innate sense of justice - "It's not fair!" - though oftimes it's insufficiently developed as to be accurate.  But they know it exists nevertheless.

It is not just for one individual to be able to wrongfully take the life of another without paying the severest penalty.  Even in our liberal society of today, the ordinary person recoils on hearing of a brutal murderer being let free to walk the streets after only a few years behind bars - even when that murderer is released at the other end of the country and there's little to no chance that you personally will ever encounter him.

Self Defense - For Society as for Individuals

That brings us to the most powerful, but rarely heard, reason why capital punishment is essential: Even as individual human beings have a right to self-defense, so has society.  By terminating the lives of those who show no respect for the lives of others, society as a whole defends itself from monsters.

Consider the infamous Willie Horton.  Mr. Horton was a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without parole in the state of Massachusetts.

Thanks to the policies of the liberal Democratic governor Michael Dukakis, however, Massachusetts decided that even the most monstrous felons deserved a vacation from the pen and started permitting weekend "furloughs."  Lifers were set free to roam the streets and breathe the free air on Saturday and Sunday, but come Monday morning, it was back to the slammer!

The end result would be obvious even to a child: if you are already serving a life prison term in a state that doesn't do capital punishment, what possible additional punishment could you get?  In effect, these furloughed killers had a free pass to do whatever they pleased, and that's exactly what Mr. Horton did: while out on "furlough," he committed assault, armed robbery, and rape.

Mr. Horton had already been convicted of murder.  He was known to be a killer; he was proven guilty in a court of law.  There is no reason whatsoever why he should ever again have seen the light of day; yet thanks to bleeding-heart liberalism, he did, and a woman was raped as a result.

He is guilty of that rape, but Gov. Dukakis and the Massachusetts legislature bear a heavy burden of guilt as well - at least, the American people decided as much, and kept Dukakis out of the White House.

The government of Massachusetts failed in its first duty to its citizens: to protect them from enemies foreign and domestic.  If a government can't protect people from criminals, why have a government at all?

Of course no government can stop all crime, but at least known criminals can be stopped.  We hear about "reforming" prisoners - but the recidivism rates show that truly reformed ex-convicts are few and far between.  The Department of Justice reports that more than two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years and around half end up right back in jail.

Not every crime deserves a "throw away the key" response.  Murder, rape, armed robbery - in other words, felonies - do.  By releasing known violent criminals instead of executing them, the government issues a death sentence for their innocent victims yet to come.  It's simple common sense: a dead murderer can't kill anybody else, whereas a live one most likely will.

To be precise: studies show that each executed murderer saves the lives of five innocents, and each commutation of a convicted criminal's sentence costs five lives.  Five innocent lives, which the state has the power to protect, and chooses not to.

John Muhammad's rampage of terror was stopped only by his arrest and incarceration; it's now been permanently stopped by his demise.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan of Ft. Hood infamy was stopped, for now, by a bullet; will he be stopped permanently?

The use of deadly force is government's ultimate power of protection; that's why soldiers kill our enemies.  In peace in our own land, we have the luxury of lawyers, judges, and trials to determine who is guilty.  Once that's been accomplished and the guilty party proved "beyond reasonable doubt," a murderer has no right to live.

Keeping murderers alive is neither merciful nor civilized; on the contrary, it's a barbaric decision that the life of a monster is worth more than the lives of five innocents.

The death of John Muhammad should be celebrated.  Maj. Hasan should receive the same penalty; so should the countless other killers who are currently rotting in prison or, God forbid, out on the streets stalking their next victims.

The death penalty isn't cruel; what's truly cruel is that executing criminals has become so unusual.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
Personally, I think we should expand the death penality.. But at the same time, cut down the time that people are waiting for the death penality, if they are found beyond a reasonible doubt to have committed a horrible act.

One of the big things opponents that I've debated have brought up as a reason against the death penality was the fact is that it costs so much to kill someone. For a good example, look at when Muhammad killed the man, what was it.. like 2002??

For him and people that commit repeated rape, or put the lives of others in danger I would much rather have a firing squad waiting for them in the back of the court room, than pay millions of dollars for the infastructure and the workers to take care of these people for the many years it takes for them to pay their crime.
November 18, 2009 8:50 AM
The title should have been - Death to Muhammad!!

Let the Muslim hating begin.
November 18, 2009 9:03 AM
I agree with the author's endgame but not his motives.

There are only two reasons any punishment should be exacted:

1) restitution for loss
2) visible deterrence for others.

Capital punishment satisfies both. It gives life for a life taken; and it demonstrates to others what will happen, should they follow the same path.

"Self defense of society" isn't really relevant because that's a relative term with relative interpretations. Liberals could (and have tried to) use that sort of phrase to exact punishment on conservative commentary. So-called "hate speech" legislation and such.

The best self defense for society, as conservatives would define it, is to simply make sure that we follow the two reasons above EVERY time a crime happens, with no variability or delays. When Singapore moved to that model, their society prospered.
November 18, 2009 9:15 AM
These sentences, for instance, are not well reasoned:

"Another reason sometimes given for the death penalty is that it allows society to demonstrate its harshest disapproval for the most depraved crimes. In this argument, executing the murderer makes society feel better and provides a sense of closure for the victims' relatives."

How so?

Society demonstrating harsh disapproval has nothing to do with "feel good" or "vengeance".

While members OF that society might, in fact, feel a sense of closure, the demonstration of harsh disapproval (or visible deterrence, as I put it) does not equate to vengeance.

They are entirely separate things.
November 18, 2009 9:20 AM
Your article seems to be saying 'once a criminal, always a criminal.' Which is entirely incorrect.

If a person ever kills for fun the chances of redeeming them are incredibly small. A gang member who kills to protect his territory however could possibly be redeemed.

The problem with recidivism is in large part because there is no real reform effort in prison. How is losing five, ten, twenty years of freedom going to make you a better person? Everyone knows the large effect that friends can have on an individual's behavior. In prison you're surrounded by criminals. Put me in there for twenty years I might just come out a criminal too!

People have some idea that giving criminals job training is going to fix the issue. This is nonsense. Criminals don't appear in relatively good economic times because of the inability to get a job. Even in good economic times when unemployment is low, it is very difficult for felons to get jobs. A convict will never be able to get a good job, those all require background checks. The most they could hope for is a factory job, and only if the employer wanted the tax benefit of hiring a felon.

We have crafted a system that not only does not reform criminals but actually encourages them to go back to a life of crime.

Society needs to choose at the time of incarceration if a person is 'redeemable.' This by necessity is a subjective decision and will not always be correct. If a person is believed to be unreformable then the person should be put to death. I honestly don't care what the crime is; although obviously there must be some lower limit. I have no interest in keeping a person alive for twenty, forty years at an incredibly high dollar figure.

Job training is not what criminals need, philosophy is. A criminal needs to learn the consequences of their actions, needs to learn to reflect upon the past and learn from it. A man that reacts with violence when he doesn't get his way will continue to do so even if he has been trained to do computer work. He must learn why violence is not the proper response and what other possible reactions there are that will result in a more positive outcome for him.

I'm sure many of you are scoffing at the idea of philosophy changing people, changing criminals. I've mentioned this article before but I can not overstate how important this article is not just with dealing with criminals but the entire culture of failure and despair especially in the inner cities that creates so many of them.

On the uses of a liberal education: 2. As a weapon in the hands of the restless poor

Found at
November 18, 2009 9:23 AM
The best argument against the death penalty is that it is not possible to rescind it if and when the state is proven wrong in its finding of guilt. Relatively recent advances in technology have allowed a good number of innocent people serving sentences for rapes they didn't commit to exonerate themselves, for example. What if all of these people were dead? The state cannot bring the dead back to life.
November 18, 2009 9:40 AM
Petrarch, to disagree with you does not make one a liberal. You sling that word around as if it were so. I disagree with you on several subjects and I assure you, I am not liberal.
You said that it has been proven that recidivism does not work - please tell me where this prison is that practices recividism. Please, I would like to know.
And, yes, the average "serial killer" is usually a white male, ages 25 - 35. The two killers you are referring to were not serial killers, but deranged terroists.
As for deterrancy: during the middle ages, when hangings were done in multiples and were a reason for a picnic, two of the more popular death penalty crimes were shoplifing and pickpocketing; while the punishment was being rendered, pickpockets were scattered hither and yon through out the crowds, plying their trade. No, the hangings were not a deterrent.
Thank you, werebat and jonyfries, for comments.
T...i,I can't bear to write your name!
November 18, 2009 11:01 AM
jonyfries - "I'm sure many of you are scoffing at the idea of philosophy changing people, changing criminals."

Actually I agree with you, if we take "philosophy" to mean "religion." I have some good friends who have worked extensively in corrections, and the consensus seems to be that only a profound religious conversion offers any statistically significant hope of really reforming hardened criminals.
November 18, 2009 11:25 AM
ComeSunday - certainly disagreeing with me doesn't automatically make someone a liberal, I'm not sure where you got that. There's quite a bit of disagreement among the authors of Scragged, which is perfectly fine. "Iron sharpeneth iron" and all that.

"Reforming" prisoners clearly doesn't work very well or we would not have a 2/3 recidivism rate as per the Justice Dept.

Concerning the subject of deterrents, in the Middle Ages it was quite possible for an impoverished person to die of starvation. The choice oftentimes would be, die for sure of starvation or steal something and die only if you got caught and convicted. That calculus is quite different from today's America, where nobody dies of starvation. You don't need to steal to live, and you certainly don't need to murder.
November 18, 2009 11:34 AM
"religious conversion offers any statistically significant hope of really reforming hardened criminals".. that includes those who convert to Islam as well.. I have a half dozen personal examples of murderers and armed robbers who saw the message, and found both a peace in their hearts and a purpose to live without guilt and shame in God's love..
Colorado has a high recidivism rate in part owing to mandatory parole laws and martinets for parole officers, who can revoke parole even if another crime is not committed, such as violations of terms: non-appearance, a traffic ticket, "association" (with other felons)and not having a job even. For those incarcerated for non-violent crimes and ones for which there is no restitution (e.g., drugs)
the rate may be high in part because of the illegal nature and profits to be gained by taking the risks.
You are correct in the ~ 2/3 rate: usually the subsequent offence is similar, i.e. burglary, drugs or assault, especially sexual assault: short of castration there is probably no cure for that.
My 2ยข worth is that the Gitmo detainees should face execution.. but first a trial, and this should have been done under the Bush administration, instead of him passing the buck: his waffleness makes his legacy that much harder to defend.

November 18, 2009 11:58 AM
Bush TRIED to deal with the Guantanamo detainees - but the libs fought it every step of the way with constant lawsuits over the entire process. The Supreme Court ultimately decided that it was perfectly legal to give them military tribunals, as international law has allowed for combatants forever, but by then Bush's term was winding down and there wasn't enough time to finish those trials. Obama suspended them as soon as he got in.
November 18, 2009 12:20 PM
Religious is certainly a philosophy, but that is not was I was referring to.

I am advocating the teaching of the great philosophers of history, symbolic logic, and all of the liberal arts. In essence teaching people how to think.

Religion does accomplish that goal, all major religions have a philosophical background that is helpful in teaching people how to interact with other people. However, they often fail to teach people how to think. Not to say that they discourage independent thought but simply that it is not essential to religion.

The liberal arts on the other hand, philosophy in particular, force people to reflect and ponder to understand them.
November 18, 2009 2:49 PM
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